Friday, August 23, 2013

The Road Home

Our last night in The Foley House Inn was uneventful.  No jumping socks, no strange noises, just a good night’s sleep for both of us.  Next morning we had another delicious breakfast served by the hotel cook.  Two other couples were in the breakfast room with us, including the couple in 307…next to our room.  Near the end of breakfast they asked why we were running water so much at 3:15 in the morning.  We weren't.  Coincidentally, our tour guide on the hearse told us that the peak time for paranormal activity was 3:15 AM.  The Foley House Inn definitely is a memory maker!

Coligny Beach on Hilton Head
We headed north to check out a couple of famous beach areas we've never visited.  First up was Hilton Head Island.  Hilton Head is only 45 minutes from Savannah…and is a beautiful drive amid the marshes and savannas of South Carolina. 

Hilton Head is very subdued with little commercialization.  The main beach is Coligny Beach where you’ll find easy walkways over the dunes and onto the hard-packed beach.  The beach is hard enough that you can ride bikes through the surf.  It’s beautiful and we enjoyed a nice walk on the beach searching for shells and doing a little people watching.

Next up was Myrtle Beach.  This place is totally different from Hilton Head.  There’s a boardwalk along the dunes and next to the boardwalk are about 100 tee shirt shops, bars, restaurants, a huge Ferris Wheel and crowds of people.  This extends for blocks in each direction.  We parked next to the Ferris Wheel, paying $7 per hour for the privilege.
Myrtle Beach from Pier 14

We walked the boardwalk for a while and visited Pier 14 where there were several fishermen catching small fish to use as shark bait…on that same pier.  They fish for sharks just a few yards from where hundreds are playing in the water.  Myrtle Beach and Hilton Head are radically different….I like them both for different reasons.

DC was next and we stayed with the same friends we stayed with last year, Pete and Margaret. Wednesday was a site-seeing day, but this time we weren't visiting the monuments.  Instead,  Margaret, Mona and I drove  towards the Shenandoah River to visit some Civil War sites.  First up, Manassas; which is the site of two major Civil War battles: The Battle of Bull Run and the Second Battle of Bull Run.  This park covers over 5000 acres and there are many relics from the battles, as well as many graves.   There were over 20,000 casualties in these battles, making this a very somber place to visit.
Harper's Ferry West Virginia
Maryland is on the left bank, Virginia on the Right

We then drove about an hour north to visit Harper’s Ferry.  This is a small West Virginia peninsula, formed by the junction of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers.  It’s beautiful and serene today, but in the mid 1800s it was a bustling industrial city with water-powered factories building munitions.  There was also a major armory there, which John Brown attacked in 1859 hoping to incite a revolution among slaves throughout the south.  John Brown’s raid failed, but it was a major incident leading to the Civil War.

Warren, Mona and Margaret
The View from Hillsborough Vineyard
In the afternoon, we visited a couple of Virginia wineries.  Surprising to us, there are about 100 vineyards in this part of Virginia, growing many of the same grapes you see in California and France.  Our last stop of the day was Hillsborough Vineyards, situated high on a hill overlooking the valley below and the mountains along the Shenandoah.  After tasting, we bought a bottle of wine, some crackers and some cheese.  We then sat outside to sip and enjoy the incredible view.  Not long after we were seated an elderly gentleman walked by our table and greeted us a he walked by.  We could tell he was alone so we invited him to sit with us.  After introductions (his name was Warren) we told how we came to be there and asked him what brought him to the winery.  He explained that he lived about a mile away and this was his and his wife’s favorite spot.  His wife died about 8 months ago and this would have been her birthday.  He was here for her birthday.  We all toasted her and then enjoyed a wonderful evening with delightful Warren.

This was a wonderful trip and it was so good to end it with our good friends in D.C.  Can’t wait to go back for more visits!

Monday, August 19, 2013


Streets of Savannah
We’ve always had this mental picture of Savannah, with magnolia trees everywhere, and tall oaks dripping with Spanish moss; all amid quiet tranquil beauty.  Pretty vivid pics, yet neither of us had ever been to Savannah.

That all changed a couple of days ago as we turned off Route I-16 and made our way in to Savannah on Oglethorpe Street; which is indeed lined with magnolias and tall oaks dripping with Spanish moss.  It was everything we imagined and more!

Mona missing her chocolates!
We arrived at our Bed and Breakfast (The Foley House Inn) just in time for afternoon tea in the parlor.  We had pink lemonade and pecan crusted cheesecake as the hotel manager told us about the history of the hotel and nearby Chippewa Square, where Forest Gump sat on his bench and talked about boxes of chocolates.  We really enjoyed tea time, but of course that wasn't enough food for Mona so later on we had to walk in the rain to find dinner.

About 9:00 we were back in the parlor waiting on our ride for the evening’s tour.  Finally, it showed up….a hearse, a real life (or death) hearse!   The hearse had been retired from its normal service and modified to allow eight people to sit upright in the back.  This was to be our touring vehicle for the night!
Our hearse for the night.  Laura is the to Mona

Our tour took us to many of the ghostly sites of Savannah…and there are many!  Apparently, there are many who have lived in Savannah that thought murder was an acceptable solution to their social issues!  Maybe it’s because much of the town is built upon the graves of almost ten thousand souls who were buried outside the current perimeter of the Colonial Cemetery.  The ride was made even spookier due to the rain and those oaks with all that Spanish moss!  This was definitely a ride to remember!

Bed of the moving socks!
We have mentioned on Facebook that The Foley House Inn is haunted.  We would have noticed even if the hotel manager hadn’t told us.  That’s because Mona was in our room alone and had placed two socks on the bed.  She turned away and then back to notice a sock was on the floor.  As she bent to pick it up, the second sock moved to the floor.  Neither sock had been on the edge of the bed where it could have fallen.  Needless to say, Mona left the room asap!  Apparently, Wally, the house ghost likes to move things and make noise.  They call him Wally because during some renovations they found a skeleton behind a wall.  (Hence the name, Wally.)  Apparently, a previous owner had killed Wally for his money and hid his body behind the wall!

Wally's Port
We had a few other “occurrences” in the room…I put a loaded camera bag on the bed beside me.  A few moments later it was gone…and on the floor.  There was no sound indicating it had fallen…it had simply moved.  The next morning Mona asked me if I had heard all the noises in the room above us.  There was no room above us.

Other guests had odd occurrences too.  A gentleman from England said he put his glasses on the nightstand beside him.  Next morning they weren’t there….they were on the nightstand on the other side of the bed.  Another couple asked us why we were running water at 3:15 in the morning.  We weren't!  Wally is certainly a busy fellow!  Apparently, Wally also likes port.  The hotel keeps port on the lobby piano 24 hours a day for the guests, and for Wally!

See the rocks?
Bonaventure Cemetery
Of course, there is much more to do in Savannah than stay in our hotel.  We visited two of the notable cemeteries in town…the Bonaventure and the Colonial Cemetery.  The Bonaventure is huge and full of incredible tombstones and monuments…and with lots of live oaks draped in Spanish moss.  It’s beautiful.  Bonaventure also has a large Jewish section.  Did you know that Jews don’t put flowers on graves?  There are lots of theories as to where this custom came from, but my favorite is that since rocks are permanent they show that the departed is permanently in the heart of the person who left the rock.

We also visited the Colonial Cemetery in the heart of Savannah.  It’s been turned into a park, but there are still hundreds of graves there, including graves of heroes from the Revolutionary War.  Many of the graves there are brick hut-like buildings.  We've never seen any like them before.

Colonial Graves
We finished our visit on a trolley tour visiting most of the sites in the city.  There are many beautiful homes to see and 22 squares, which are like miniature parks laid out in a grid fashion in the heart of the city.  We hopped off the tour along the Savannah River to grab a bite to eat and to enjoy the river view.  We highly recommend this tour!

Our last stop of the evening was Pirates House for drinks and appetizers.  This place was built in the 1700s and had an underground tunnel going from the building to the river port.  If you had too much to drink you would we whisked away through this tunnel and you’d wake up the next morning as a sailor!  Talk about “Argh”!!!

Next morning, we were treated to another fantastic low-country breakfast and shared “bump-in-the night stories” with our fellow guests.  Can’t wait to go back and visit there again!!!

Life at Sea

Our cruise experts (Cousins Randy and Mary Ann) told us that they liked having extra days at sea.  We were skeptical, but decided to follow their advice and booked a cruise with two days at sea.  I was nervous about this….how would we fill all this time!?!?!?
Looking up the Atrium

As I mentioned in the first cruise blog, this ship (The Carnival Liberty) is huge.  13 decks, over 100 thousand tons and over 1000 feet long.  There are at least four swimming pools, a water slide, maybe six or seven Jacuzzis and an outdoor theater.  On top of that there are about ten restaurants, maybe 15 bars and music venues and a full-size theater for productions and shows.  There’s also a casino, a basketball court, a running track and a gym.  Maybe, just maybe, we could find something do to while at sea.
Genesis (the waiter's name) singing Happy Birthday

Our favorite place on board was the Serenity Deck…for adults only (and, no, the top deck is no longer topless).  There are two Jacuzzis up there…one a bit cooler than the other.  We met lots of people there…from Nicaragua, Cuba, England and all parts of the US.  Speaking of meeting people, that’s one of the coolest parts about cruising….you meet lots and lots of new people from everywhere in the world.  And it’s not just fellow cruisers…it’s also the staff.  Lots of Indonesians, South Africans, Filipinos, Croatians and even a Russian from Siberia.

Waiters Dancing on Tables
We listened to so many great musicians:  A Japanese band singing old rock favorites….and messing up here and there on the lyrics.  (Think “Deck the Halls” in “A Christmas Story.”)  A couple called “The Two of Us” who sang light rock…  But our favorite was Dylan Holton….who played the guitar, covering a few songs, but also singing several he wrote.  We expect to hear his “Weight of the World” on the radio soon.

The Liberty is a beautiful ship.  Even though it’s huge there has obviously been a lot of attention paid to every detail. And everything is so well maintained.  I’d get up around 4:30 and see all the maintenance people buffing and polishing everything in sight. 
There was a themed dance party outside  every night.

And, I don’t know why, but seemingly everyone on the ship was in a great mood.  I can easily understand the cruisers’ happiness…they are on vacation.  But even the crew was happy.   We met so many in such a short time and got to know their stories.  Even those people I met at 4:30 in the morning always greeted me and asked how I was doing.  Where else does this happen???

We didn't go to dinner at our assigned table until the third night of the cruise.  There we met Larry and Pat….a wonderful couple.  He retired from the mail service 33 years ago.  Since then he’s been on 93 Carnival cruises…..93!  21 of those cruises were on the Liberty!  They are absolutely the sweetest couple and are treated like royalty by the entire cruise staff. We'd love to link up with them for cruise #100!
Japanese Rock Band

One of the things we were worried about on this trip was our room.  We had been assigned an inside cabin on the lowest deck.  Mona in particular was worried that she would feel claustrophobic. However, as soon as we opened the door to the room our fears went away.  It was a very nice sized room with a king size bed.  Lots of space and a very nice sized bathroom.  Loved it!

Our Dining Room 
Midcruise we switched dinning tables.  We met two ladies (Brenna and Brenda) in the hot tub who convinced us that their table was the most fun one on the boat.   At their table we got acquainted with four other couples who were there to have fun.  We dined with them for the rest of the cruise and had a blast at every dinner thereafter!  (Yes, Brenna and Brenda were right..this was the most fun table on the ship!)
There was a new critter on our bed
every night!

Virtually, every night there was a big time production with singers and dancers.  Most nights there were two or three comedians…with adult themes at night.  One night there was a hypnotist who hypnotized about 30 people at once.  His show was funny…but not Tom Deluca funny.  (Only Decaturites will understand that comment.)
Mona?  In the water...again?!?

Spending extra time at sea really gives you a chance to meet more people and spend some quality time with them.  We met a couple from Sweden that invited us to link up with them when we go there to see the Northern Lights.  We also exchanged email addresses with a group who plan to meet for another cruise together.  (From our adopted dinner table.)  And, we’d love to go and see Edward and his wife in Thailand after they get their new restaurant started.
Mona and Dylan

We had two sea days….and wish we had more!  We simply didn’t have enough time to fit everything in.  We simply have to do this again!

Sunday, August 18, 2013


This year we decided to trade a vacation week for a cruise.  We booked a seven night cruise on the Carnival Liberty with four ports of call: Mexico, Belize, Honduras and the Cayman Islands.  This blog post will primarily talk about the ports of call.  I'm writing a different post about our time on the ship.

We got in to Miami early Thursday. Our hotel was directly across from MIA and as we drove in we noticed a 94th Aero Squadron Restaurant nearby.  It looked just like the one that used to be in STL so we had to go there for a glass of wine.  Inside was very similar to the one in STL and it reminded us of how much fun it was to take Mom and Dad there.

Afterwards, it was time to head to South Beach.  However, I-395 was blocked due to a drawbridge that wouldn't shut.  Time for a reroute!  We decided to take a detour through the back streets of Miami all the way from the airport to South Beach.  Boy, did we get an education…it’s totally different from the beautiful sky scrapers and multi-million dollar homes you associate with Miami.  Instead, it’s mile after mile of tiny houses with no front yard and with their cars parked up next to the house.  And, there was a big section of the trip where we saw virtually no signs in English.  We didn't feel threatened at any time, but it definitely wouldn’t be where we’d drive at night!

South Beach is South Beach….we've never encountered anything else quite like it.  There’s the beach, with thousands of people on it….then sand dunes, then parks/hotels, then Ocean Drive which is lined with restaurants and clubs catering primarily to tourists.  Lots of crazy-cool cars, wild neon, palm trees, hot looking people, and hawkers trying to get you to come into their place.  We were specifically looking for Cuban food and were disappointed that all the restaurants had virtually the same menu with only Cuban sandwiches.  Finally a guy told us we had to get off Ocean Drive to get real Cuban food and he directed us to Puerto Sagua….which was filled with Cubans eating great food….highly recommend it!

Leaving Miami, South Beach is in the background
After dinner it was time to stop by an outdoor club to listen to music.  However, we weren't out to see and be seen.  Instead we were more like “see, gawk and be innocuous”.  Great music and lots of people (median age of 25) but all too soon it was time to go back to our hotel and watch airplanes.

Beginning the Cruise:
We got to the port around 11:00 and quickly boarded, along with about 3500 others (and 1100 crew members).  Long lines, but everyone was quickly processed.  Of course Mona was starving so the first place we hit was a buffet.  It’s hard to describe how many offerings there were….you just have to see it to believe it.  We sated our hunger and then began exploring our ship, the Carnival Liberty.  The ship has 13 decks and is about 1000 feet long (not to mention it weighs 110,000 tons!).  There are lounges throughout the ship, along with several restaurants, cafes and coffee shops.   There is also an incredible list of over 350 activities you can do….games, shows, casino, pools, Jacuzzis, and on and on and on….

Mona and Friends
Our first port of call was Cozumel, Mexico.  This is an island about 30 miles off the coast of Mexico.  We decided this would be our casual day, nothing fancy, just walking and enjoying the city.  We shared a cab from the port to the town square.  From there we started geocaching, taking in the sights and sounds of the little town as we cached.  The shopkeepers were still opening up but they all managed to talk to us and ask us to come into their shop.  They didn't seem to mind if you didn't buy anything, they just wanted to ensure you came in to see what they had to offer. 

We stopped at an outside bar called Wet Willies for margaritas and guacamole.  Both were awesome.  Then stopped by a tequila store for free samples.  We got to talking with the store owner and ended up with lots and lots of samples.  Afterwards we somehow managed to grab another cab and make it back to port.  Time to hit the Jacuzzi!

Our second port of call was Belize City, Belize.  When we went to school this tiny country was called “British Honduras”  and it wasn't until 1981 that Belize gained independence from Britain.  This is the only country in Central America where they speak English…quite good English at that.  However, when locals talk to locals they speak Kriol….a blend of English, Spanish, Creole and home-grown words.

Two Wild Flowers
Howler Monkey
Our excursion began with a two hour boat ride into the jungle.  We left the port on an open boat that seated 30.  We cruised along the coast until we came to the River Wallace where we turned up river.  No sooner had we entered the river we saw a dolphin….and something else.  The dolphin was playing with a baby manatee, giving it rides on his nose!!!  Mama manatee was swimming alongside keeping a close eye on things!  Amazing!

We saw lots and lots of wildlife on this ride….howler monkeys (cross than one off the bucket list!), crocodiles, beautiful birds including ospreys, herons, frigate birds, cormorants and one yellow parrot.  We also saw lots of iguanas…in trees, in clearings, everywhere!  Some of these iguanas were six or seven feet long…the biggest iguanas we've ever seen!

Finally we came to a large clearing where there was a “resort”.  There we had lunch which consisted of jerk chicken accompanied by beans and rice cooked in coconut milk.  Delicious!  After lunch we boarded a bus and headed for the next part of the trip…an ancient Mayan site called Altun Ha.  This is a relatively small site, especially when compared to Chichen Itza, but it’s also where some of the most incredible finds of Mayan jade have been made, including the crown jewel of Belize, a skull made from jade.
Two of the Pyramids at Altun Ha

We explored the site for about an hour, including a climb to the top of one of the pyramids.  The heat here was intense and the air was swimming wet!  Our guide told us that the heat, along with the surrounding swamps and jungle helped keep the conquistadores from conquering this site.  I can believe it…I’d hate to wear armor in this jungle!

Roatan, Honduras
Our third port of call was Roatan, Honduras.  This was our beach day and we took a chair lift to the nearby beach. From the chairlift we could see lionfish in the shallows below…were we really going to get in the water here!?!?!   At the beach, we put our gear in our clamshell cabana and headed for the water, lionfish or not!  At the beach it was just us and about 2000 of our closest friends.  Luckily the beach was huge.  We floated for a while, I snorkeled for a while and then it was time to head back to the ship.  Jacuzzi time!

Cayman Islands:
This Ray is About 5 feet Wide.  
Our final port of call was the Grand Cayman island in the Cayman Islands.  Here we rode a bus to the far side of the island.  This island nation is known for its banking and it’s not nearly as poor as its neighbors.  Lots of nice middle class homes and businesses here.  But, lest you forget that you’re in the Caribbean, there are still iguanas everywhere!  Once we reached the far side of the island we boarded a boat for our final adventure, a visit to Stingray City!

Stingray City is a sandbar, two miles out in the ocean….yep, two miles!  Our boat anchored seemingly in the middle of the ocean and then they told us to get out!  If you know Mona, you know that she hates water deeper than her ankles.  I mean h.a.t.e.s!  Yet, here she was, getting off of a perfectly good boat into water that was up to her shoulders!  I don’t think she would have done this except it was my birthday.
Took this with my iPhone in a bag!

As we got off the boat we could see triangular shapes gliding through the water…stingrays!  These rays were four or five feet across and there must have been a hundred of them!  They would come right up to us and bump into us!  It was a little iffy at first, but then you get to liking it!  We waded to waist deep water and there our guide told us all about the rays and how they feed on life underneath our feet.  We got to hold a ray and then feed one.  The ray literally sucks the squid right out of your hand from several inches away!!!  (Note: You are warned not to wipe your hand on your body after the ray eats your squid.  That’s because rays LOVE squid, even squid juice and will suck the juice from your body leaving you with a giant hickey…right Virginia?)

We were out on the sandbar for an hour or so…feeding the rays, snorkeling with them….and just having a blast!  Our visit ended all too soon!!!

Afterwards, we shopped awhile in the port town and then made our way to waterside bar.  There, Mona made friends with some local women, celebrating a new job for one of them.  We met lots of fun people here in the Caymans, as well as everywhere we visited.
Mona and New Girlfriends

We had fun on all our excursions, but Stingray City was the best of all.  We would both love to do that again!  (And…we’d like to swim with dolphins, swim with turtles, ride horses on the beach, and, and, and!

Hard to see, but in this pic is a dolphin, a baby manatee and
a mama manatee.
Many thanks to Mary Ann and Randy for all the cruise excursion tips!  There are so so many excursion options and you were a big help in making our decisions.  We are ready to go again!